Carnivores take note: You don’t have to go far to find great red meat.
By Elise Maclay
*** Three Stars out of Four
Read, google or talk about steak, and raves for Peter Luger Steak House pepper the page, screen and conversation – and it’s in Brooklyn for gosh sake. No offense, but the heart of this venerable borough is not what most of us consider convenient. Still, droves of dedicated steak-lovers have been making the pilgrimage to this legendary palace of beef since 1887. So, when a steak house is likened to Peter Luger, it’s worth looking into.
After at Peter Luger for 15 years, Joseph decided to open a steak house of his own in Bridgeport. Critics and connoisseurs immediately hailed it as “as chop of the Peter Luger block” – with two improvements: a warmer welcome and a more interesting wine list.
But these are niceties, appreciated but no match for Joseph’s main attraction: a monumental porterhouse on the bone with a large filet attached to it, for one, two, three or four persons. The meat is dry-aged U.S. prime, buttery, silky textured, richly flavored, expertly cooked and served sizzling on a hot plate tilted to catch the juice. There are other things on Joseph’s menu (veal, salmon, chicken) but in this temple of beef the porterhouse is the holy of holies, in my opinion worth a pilgrimage from anywhere.
When I visited Joseph’s Steakhouse shortly after it opened, I fell in love with that gorgeous hunk of meat and have been dreaming of it ever since. Returning recently, I was ecstatic to discover that the object of my affection was a swoon-producing as ever.
We arrived, early on a Monday night. Joseph Kustra (shock of white hair, flashing smile) was striding energetically out the door. “Taking a walk with my son,” he said. “I’ll be back. The people in there will take good care of you.”
They did. Ferdinand, our waiter, who was born in Montenegro and spoke four languages, told us everything we wanted to know about the food and its preparation – along with the fact that he thought America was the best place in the world.
We began with an appetizer of extra-thick grilled bacon. Odd as it may sound, it’s a must-have. Triple-smoked, barely salty, it wakes up the mouth and gets the juices flowing. Caesar salad was a wash. Arugula, sliced tomatoes or hearts of lettuce with Joseph’s house dressing, a Dijon-spiked balsamic vinaigrette, would be a better bet. There was great bread on the table – crisp flatbread, french bread and slices of light, moist, incredibly fresh pumpernickel, served with good butter. A crabmeat appetizer and jumbo shrimp were high quality – too good, really, to doll up with red cocktail sauce. I put a dab of mayonnaise on the shrimp and savored the crab au natural.
Joseph’s home fries are famous, hash-browned and crispy with onion. Hadda have ’em. So should you. Also obligatory is Joseph’ creamed spinach, which is bright green and actually tastes like spinach rather than nutmeg-flavored cream sauce.
But when it came to entrees, we focused on steaks and chops. Porterhouse this good-aged on racks in a refrigerated room where the temperature and humidity are carefully controlled – is so rare that when you find it, the purists say, why mess around? The same goes for the best veal chop I’ve had in years, also dry-aged, an inch-and-a-half thick on the bone, served with buttery sliced mushrooms; and for a quartet of lamb chops, plump and exceptionally succulent.
But back to the porterhouse and the ceremonial ritual that governs its serving. Presliced in the kitchen, the pieces are put back in place along the bone so you can see exactly which section of steak you are eating. Hot dinner plates were set down seconds before the steak platter arrived. A bottle of Joseph’s excellent steak sauce was standing by. But for me, these ambrosial steak morsels with just enough fat ad just enough char glistening with meat juice, pale pink and clear, needed nothing at all by the way of adornment. Not even salt and pepper.
In fact, not dessert, because we are talking huge portions here that you are almost certain to devour in their entirety. But we can always be tempted and research must be conducted, so we succumbed. But be warned, there are no light desserts here unless you count the pleasant creme brulee. There is, however, a terrific apple strudel, which is heated, Ferdinand assures us, in the oven, not the microwave, so the flaky pastry remains crisp. There is also an excellent New York style cheesecake, tartufo with an extra-thick chocolate mousse cake and pecan pie.
In the telling, all of the above falls into the category of “who-would-dine-so-selfindulgently-in-this-day-and-age?” But comfortably seated in Joseph’s handsome, Old World, red brick and carved mahogany dining room with sports talk and laughter and appetizing smells all around, wee won’t let the question drift away, taking with it the yammering irritations of the day.